Bamiyan Women’s Bike Team to Launch 2014.

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4 years ago exactly, I rode my mountain bike throughout Panjshir and on the hills that surround Kabul.  It was one part experiment and one part adventure.  In a country that doesn’t allow its women to ride bikes, I wanted to challenge the gender barrier as a foreign woman and test the reactions.  I also wanted to experience a country known mostly for  war, poverty, and oppression on two wheels, surrounded by the beauty of the Panjshir mountains and the kindness of the people I encountered, and share a different view of Afghanistan back home.

It wasn’t until three years later that I found women who rode.  I met Coach Seddiq in late 2012,  the head of the Afghan bicycing federation who was coaching not only the boys but also started a women’s team.  My heart soared and we immediately got to work to support with equipment, gear, and training.  NBC Nightly News covered the story and we collected an enormous amount of gear along with 5 carbon racing bikes from Liv/giant.

This spring, we delivered the gear, and introduced a film crew from Let Media to the team.  Filmmaker Sarah Menzies, came to make a film about the women’s national team, the first women to ride and race.  Afghan Cycles launches in 2014 and it couldn’t be more fitting as the next steps with women’s cycling launch.

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A few days ago I met Zohra, a young women who is studying archeology at Bamiyan University and works for the local radio station.  She learned to ride bikes growing up in Iran and wants to start a women’s’ team now that she is back.  Bamiyan is very progressive by Afghan standards in regards to women’s rights and women in sports, and she wanted to build on the increase in sports and tourism with a girls team.   I agreed to start the team with her as the team leader, and immediately met with Coach Seddiq who gave his full support, as did the President of the Afghan Olympic Federation.

Spring 2014, the first Bamiyan women’s bicycling team will launch and its just one more sign of the progression of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the importance of sports in community and culture.  Mountain2Mountain’s name is all the more symbolic as we continue to build programming in Afghanistan… mountain to mountain, village to village, person to person, connecting communities and cultures has always been at the heart of our approach.  To start work in a province that closely mimics my own, a high alpine province deep in the Hindu Kush is not unlike my own mountain town in Colorado, with emerging ski tourism, and national parks, is a dream come true.

Next up with be filling up my rented storage unit with as many bikes, clothes, stationary bikes, indoor trainers, and equipment as we can to ship over to continue our support with the national teams  and to allow us to start the Bamiyan team.   Look out world, the women of Afghanistan are riding bikes, and they are pedaling a revolution!

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4 thoughts on “Bamiyan Women’s Bike Team to Launch 2014.

  1. Jean says:

    I’m curious to know though…..have any of these women adopted cycling not just for racing/competitive purposes but for regular daily transportation? That is the REAL sign of progress in society at large. Racing /competing is confined to small group of people. Even in North America.

    Feel free to let the local cycling women and those in the Middle East know of this:
    http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/cycling-lifestyle-living-an-unconscious-feminist-life/

    For the next TED chat….let a local woman from one of those countries speak. We hear enough of the women from North America taken the TED podium. We have too many privileges to speak and gain attention.

    Best wishes for a collective journey on bikes.

  2. Shannon Galpin says:

    Jean… thanks for the comment. Its a ways off before women will safely be able to commute. The only way they can safely ride right now is with teh coach or a male family member. Its still incredibly controversial in most of the country. These are the first women to ride bikes and so it takes time and has a lot of issues that surround it. Racing and cycling and a sport in general will allow for it to become more accepted and less controversial over time. Baby steps. It has to start somewhere and it has to organically grow so that it can become more mainstream. You also have to remember that for TED talk in the US – they have to speak English. In some cases, western women need to be a proxy voice so that the stories are heard regardless of language and in time yes, these amazing women and others like them will take the stage themselves. That’s why we are making the film, AFghan Cycles, its them in their voice, their story, unfiltered. It will premiere in 2014. In dari with english subtitles and tour the film festival circuit.

  3. Jean says:

    “Baby steps. It has to start somewhere and it has to organically grow so that it can become more mainstream”.

    Getting women all geared up in lycra helps them. feel comfortable…but doesn’t really help make it mainstream.

    A better way at this, is offering sometimes the women to cycle in comfortable less sporty, but still comfortable riding around in their own neighbourhoods (with their male chaperone, etc.).

    Maybe a visit to a girl’s college/school…might be a broader direction and teach some to bike. Slow steps.

    Look at efforts to sustain themselves in every step…long after you leave and market your film, while these ladies are still in their home country.

    Best of luck.

  4. Shannon Galpin says:

    Jean – that’s whats going on already. The film project is a side project, my work with team is to build capacity in the team, and get more girls on bikes around the country. But its important to remember that the team are Afghan led under the Afghan Olympic federation. This is Afghan not western. The pace they set needs to be theirs. Not mine. They are already homegrown making baby steps to ride with family. The rare occasion you will girls riding bikes, and in Bamiyan province its more acceptable and you can do that, and they are. In other provinces women would be attacked no matter what she wore or who she was with. Its a massive taboo and I am fully aware that lycra and racing is not the end goal… but it is breaking more barriers in awareness and public support than girls riding to school is. You need to remember that here girls are attacked with acid, harassed, and the like, just for WALKING to school. When I first started riding in Afghanistan in 2009 as a foriegn woman… there were no local women I could find for years that were riding bikes in Afghanistan. I rode in long pants, long skirt, long tunic and headscarves. This is how they now are riding if they ride in town. The lycra is only for team practice and that is their decision as athletes.

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